Cyndi Lauper

From Their Lips
Cyndi Lauper Speaks Out About How She and Lady Gaga Are Working to Empower Women Against AIDS in the Latest Viva Glam Campaign

by Lester Strong

Cyndi Lauper and Lady Gaga: You’ve played their music, seen them onstage and on television, visited them on YouTube. Now they’ve teamed up in the latest VIVA GLAM campaign to raise funds for AIDS organizations and initiatives around the world

It’s a good partnership. Lauper—a music icon and major voice in the music world since the 1980s—and Lady Gaga—the new “kid on the block” music sensation these days—share a passion for fashion, music, and performance. But they also share another passion: raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and safer sex, finding a cure for the disease, and helping those who already have it.

VIVA GLAM provides the perfect means to combine these passions and channel them in measurably worthwhile directions. Introduced in 1994 to raise money for M·A·C Cosmetics’ M·A·C AIDS Fund, the initiative has to date funneled more than $160 million to various AIDS organizations and initiatives. It does this through the creation of new Lipsticks and “Lipglasses,” and their sale through ad campaigns featuring celebrity spokespeople. The motto of M·A·C Cosmetics is “all ages, all races, all sexes,” and in previous years, those spokespeople have included individuals as diverse as Mary J. Blige, rap artist Lil’ Kim, Elton John, RuPaul, Christina Aguilera, Pamela Anderson, Chloë Sevigny, and Boy George, among others.

AIDS of course made its debut on the world scene as a “gay plague,” and in many people’s minds is still considered a disease afflicting mainly gay men. The sad fact is, however, women currently account for nearly half the HIV/AIDS cases around the world. So it’s not surprising that, according to James Gager, senior vice president/creative director of M·A·C Worldwide, the 2010 VIVA GLAM campaign with Cyndi Lauper and Lady Gaga focuses on “the power and empowerment of women.” Why Lauper and Lady Gaga in particular? Gager explains: “These two very glamorous women have the ability to speak up and make a difference. We wanted highly charged femininity to bring back the glam in VIVA GLAM.”

Specifically, the campaign focuses on the empowerment of women in relation to AIDS, and the message to women from both performers is clear.

In their own words:
Cyndi Lauper: “Be smart, be careful, protect yourself, practice safe sex, and look out for your sisters to make sure they are doing the same. But there are also huge populations of women in many places like South Africa, or in the Congo, where women are becoming infected through rape. For them, I ask the world to stand up and get involved. They are all sisters, mothers, daughters, and they need our help.”

Lady Gaga: “Use protection, and be selective and strong about those you love. Your body is sacred, and it’s ok to say no. Make your partners get tested, go together: it will only make your relationships stronger and healthier.”

The image of the two women together in the advertising campaign, shot by photographer Ellen von Unwerth and visible all over the Internet these days, certainly embodies a highly charged femininity with its provocative poses, lace underwear, and large strand of pearls. It also shows each woman wearing the lipstick shade created specifically to match her own iconic look: the coral red VIVA GLAM CYNDI, and the blue pink VIVA GLAM GAGA. The words in a slinky italic typeface accompanying the image are just as provocative:

From our Lips: You know you’ve got a sexy voice…Use it! Let’s talk about how to keep your love life safe, seductive and satisfying. Just between us girls.

Currently Lady Gaga is on the North American leg of her international Monster Ball Tour covering several continents and many, many venues, performing many of the popular hits from her two albums The Fame and The Fame Monster: “Dance in the Dark,” “Just Dance,” “Alejandro,” “Monster,” “So Happy I Could Die,” “Speechless,” “Poker Face,” “The Fame,” “Money Honey,” “Boys Boys Boys,” “Paper Gangsta,” “Paparazzi,” “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else
I Can Say),” and
“Bad Romance.”

In March, Cyndi Lauper was in Memphis recording her latest album Memphis Blues (release date June 22), and this summer is on her own North American tour. In the middle of this busy schedule, however, she found time to respond to a few questions about her perspective
on AIDS.

Lauper’s career was already on the rise as the AIDS crisis first unfolded in the 1980s. Asked how she became aware of the disease, she answered simply: “I lost a dear friend to AIDS right at the beginning of the epidemic. Things just got worse, with many people around me getting sick and then dying. I was devastated. I still am.”

Asked what changes she’s seen in the course of the epidemic, aside from medical breakthroughs, over the years, she became more detailed: “In the 1980s, without groups like ACT UP, organizations like GMHC, or people like Larry Kramer [who helped found both ACT UP and GMHC], we wouldn’t have the drugs we have that allow people to live with the disease today, or even be as far along as we are toward a cure. We also wouldn’t have been able to navigate through the prejudices, stigma, hatred, and ignorance that came from others about the disease. Gay men were treated like pariahs for most of the early part of the 1980s, and I was always inspired by the ‘Fuck you! If you’re not gonna do something about helping us, then we are gonna help ourselves’ spirit of AIDS activists. The community as a whole, including the lesbian community, came together to help their gay brothers get through what was just a horrific time of fear for everyone. Reagan wouldn’t even say the word ‘AIDS,’ which was criminal. The activists and community itself brought the fight and truth about the transmission of the disease to the media. They made people sit up and listen to the truth about what was happening, the lack of research, the misinformation about how it was transmitted—all of it.”

She continued: “As for the younger GLBT kids coming up, they need to revisit this history and see how terrible it was; they need to realize it’s still an epidemic and it still kills. I don’t want to sound preachy, but it’s true. Anyone still stupid enough to have unsafe sex or think they are invincible needs a good kick in the ass. I’m not one to censor people’s sexual practices, but sometimes when I see or hear about someone (usually a youngster) thinking that they are not going to get sick or that they can ‘manage the disease,’ it not only makes me feel bad that they might get sick, it upsets me to think of the people we lost to AIDS. I find such attitudes disrespectful to everyone we lost, knowing what we know now.”
Then true to Lauper’s commitment as a VIVA GLAM spokesperson, she brought her comments back to women and AIDS: “In regard to the disease today, we do know so much more. We have so many more ways to combat it, and the world knows we are all at risk. The world knows there’s an open dialogue, there’s education, there’s media coverage, there’s understanding, sensitivity, and responsibility, and care for those living with AIDS.
“One dialogue has to do with women and AIDS. That’s the purpose of the VIVA GLAM campaign Lady Gaga and I are part of. To keep that dialogue out in the open and even expand it is the right thing to do. To take your safety in your own hands, even if your partner doesn’t do so. To be responsible as a woman and do your part to educate and protect. I’m hoping the spirit of the campaign and my work with it evoke the same advocacy gay men brought to the forefront in the 1980s, and that the legacy of that work continues.”

Lauper has not only been active helping AIDS organizations over the years, but has written and performed a couple of songs related to AIDS: “Boy Blue,” expressing a powerful pain of loss in which her voice runs up and down the octaves as if unable to find a place of solace, and “True Colors,” a lovely ballad of support and love for “you with the sad eyes” whose “true colors are beautiful, like a rainbow.”

She noted in the interview: “After I lost my dear friend Gregory in the 1980s, I wrote ‘Boy Blue.’ It was as much for me as it was for him in regard to what was happening at the time. A lot of people consider ‘True Colors’ a song of support, and it definitely is. But ‘Boy Blue’ was written more from a place of loss and grieving about losing a friend to AIDS.”

As noted earlier, Lauper’s latest album, due out June 22, is Memphis Blues. Featuring not just her own voice, but performances by legendary blues singers and players like B.B. King, Jonny Lang, Allen Toussaint, Ann Peebles, and Charlie Musselwhite, it’s a tribute to a genre of music and some of its greatest practitioners she’s admired all her life.

Asked in the interview what motivated her to record the album, she replied: “I’ve always wanted to do this record. I’m lucky to be able to bounce around in all sorts of genres and have my fans come with me on that journey. On this record I literally belt it out. It’s not heavily overproduced. In fact, it was me with some legendary blues players and singers in a little studio with an 8 track, all live, with no overdubs. We went on the tape and pretty much stayed there.”

The release announcement for the album describes the blues as “soul-driven anthems for the broken-hearted, the unrequited, and the overlooked,” and goes on to say the songs focus “on the most basic problems to plague mankind: love, and the havoc wreaked because of it.” Asked to relate those words to how love, or the lack of it, has contributed to the spread of AIDS, which causes its own kind of havoc in people’s lives, Lauper replied: “I don’t think love or the lack of it has contributed to the spread of AIDS. Ignorance has in some cases, irresponsibility has in lots of others, and violence in parts of the world, including the Congo,where rape is a tool of war. That’s what has spread AIDS.”

Coming from Cyndi Lauper, who’s been involved with AIDS causes a long time, those words carry weight. Nevertheless, with no cure in sight, a loving sense of care, concern, and responsibility for oneself and others is one of the best ways to keep AIDS from wreaking havoc in our personal lives. And that, after all, is the message of Lauper’s and Lady Gaga’s VIVA GLAM campaign.
From their lips to ours.

Lester Strong interviewed actor and artist Ann Magnuson for the January cover story.